LIBRARY INCIDENT STATEMENT OF FACTS
The Town of Lantana has recently received several complaints from the public regarding an incident that occurred inside the Lantana Public Library in December 2020 involving a public disturbance created as a result of a female citizen’s refusal to wear a facial covering, or face mask, while inside the library. This event was, in part, videotaped, and that videotape has recently been the subject of several social media postings.
The incident began when a library staff and a visitor requested that another citizen put on a facial covering, and that citizen refusing to do so. At this point, library staff offered to provide ADA accommodations for curbside service. This escalated into a verbal dispute between individuals inside the library, which is against Library Code of Conduct that led to a telephone call to the Lantana Police Department for assistance.
Upon arrival, a Lantana police officer determined that the subject of the call was involved in the public disturbance and was in noncompliance with Palm Beach County Emergency Order number 2020 – 12 regarding the County’s COVID-19 directive on wearing facial coverings, which as of June 24, 2020, requires or mandates that all persons accessing any Palm Beach County or municipal-owned and operated buildings and facilities, including libraries, wear a facial covering when entering, exiting or otherwise moving around such buildings and establishments.
The Palm Beach County Emergency Order 2020 – 12 was enacted by the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners pursuant to Palm Beach County Code as well as by the declaration of emergency issued by Gov. DeSantis in Executive Order 20 – 52, in response to the County declaration of a local state of emergency due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This directive to wear facial coverings in County and municipal buildings and facilities, including public libraries, has been in effect in Palm Beach County since May 16, 2020.
This Emergency Order was enacted by the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners, not by the Town of Lantana; however, the Emergency Order continues to be in full effect and that both the Town and all of its citizens are fully subject to its terms, provisions, and requirements of that Emergency Order. A violation of the Order could subject the Town of Lantana to fines, penalties or other enforcement measures pursuant to Section 6 of the Emergency Order, which requires the Town to be in compliance.
After interviewing the subjects involved in this dispute, the Lantana police officer who responded to the call first requested, and then insisted, that the individual who refused to put on a facial covering leave the library because she was creating a disturbance in a public place. This individual complied with the officer’s instruction and left the library.
Lantana Town management has reviewed this incident which included viewing and listening to a cell phone video recording of parts, or portions, of this event involving discussions between the Town police officer and the complainant, which was subsequently posted by third parties on social media. This video only involves select portions of the event. This review by Town management has also included consultation with legal counsel.
Following this review, it was determined the police officer acted entirely appropriately in the situation, in light of the facts at hand and considerations involving the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and public health emergency, and the binding compliance mandates imposed upon the Town by the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners as a result of its Emergency Order number 12, as well as the various CDC protocols on COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
The Palm Beach County Emergency Order Number 12 is a lawful exercise by the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners pursuant to its Constitutionally-recognized police power to regulate the public health, welfare, and safety as long as the regulation is reasonable and related to a genuine public health interest in the case of the ongoing, and spiking, COVID-19 pandemic and public health emergency. This right was, in fact, recognized on July 27, 2020 by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes in the case of Machovec v. Palm Beach County when he upheld the legality and constitutionality of Palm Beach County Emergency Order number 12, and dismissed that lawsuit which was attempting to have that emergency order declared as unconstitutional as it related to those plaintiffs Privacy rights under the Florida Constitution. As noted by Judge Kastrenakes, the police power right of local governmental entities to regulate the general public’s health, welfare and safety through reasonable regulation in public health emergencies has long been recognized by the United States Supreme Court since the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905.
The Town of Lantana stands behind its Police Department and its Officer in this instance and takes strong issue with any accusations or allegations of wrongdoing. Its Police Officer was simply defusing what had clearly become a public disturbance inside its library and striving to ensure compliance with Palm Beach County Emergency Order number 12. Again, the Town could be subject to monetary fines, penalties or other enforcement measures by the County for any noncompliance in its buildings whereas, in contrast, any individual not complying with the mandate has no such potential fines, penalties or other enforcement measures which they are subject to.
The Town of Lantana requests that, as long as Palm Beach County Emergency Order number 12 remains in effect, all of the citizens of Lantana need to abide by the mandate and emergency order of the Palm Beach County Board of County commissioners in this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and public health emergency. The Town of Lantana remains committed to protecting the public health, welfare and safety of its citizens in the coming days.